Then I worried if they’d notice that I was looking around or worse, that I was barely working. For a moment I felt like my heart was about to speed up, but it didn’t. My implant informed me that it was, “Quelling ‘fight or flight’ response,” and I began to feel normal.
While I hoped it wouldn’t do that when I was in a fight, I felt relieved to know that it worked.
Though I didn’t see either Art or Zola, I decided that I ought to get back to work. I could check through access to the library later.
Coding did distract me from the world for a while, but not forever. Midway through the afternoon, it struck me that if someone in the company had a Citizen’s Mark, finishing the helmet might be the best thing I could do. My implant’s hack into the birthing chamber platform only allowed me access to the library of creatures, but not total control.
The psi helmet might give me full access—maybe even enough to compete with the Citizen’s Mark, allowing me to control the birthing chambers.
That might allow me to modify the usage logs. If they had someone with a Citizen’s Mark, it was only a matter of time before they discovered that they weren’t the only ones with access.
Deciding I’d be better off getting further in my project, I pushed myself to concentrate on code again. As was often the case, I lost track of time and everything around me.
In the middle of testing why a section of my code wasn’t delivering the expected variable in the simulator, I heard someone say my name. By the second time, it struck me that they were trying to get my attention.
I turned away from the computer screen, finding that Dr. Valerie Griffin, head of the lab that used to have the birthing chamber and consultant to Higher Ground, stood next to my cubicle.
In her white lab coat, she looked like half the people in the building.
“I see that you’re working on the helmet. How would you say it’s going?” She pulled out a chair from an unused cubicle and gave my computer screens a calm, slow look that hinted that she might understand more of what I’d written than she’d said.
Shrugging, I said, “Okay. I’m making progress, but I’m not done. I don’t even have a guess as to when I’ll be done. I’m not primarily a programmer and I’ve never written anything like this before.”
She shook her head. “I understand. Research like this isn’t the kind of thing that you can push. Don’t feel pressured. I understand exactly what you’re going through. I’ve spent a lot of time on alien artifacts during my career. What I want to know is if you feel like things are going well or badly? Are you feeling like you understand where things are going or does it feel alien and almost completely unpredictable?”
I considered it. If I told her things were going well, they’d expect something soon. If I told her things were going badly, she might tell them to pass the project on to someone else.
The answer, I decided, lay in how I was trying to present myself. The version of me that was selling to them was that of a brilliant wunderkind, grandson of the engineer that made the Hardwicks millions or billions of dollars.
“It’s pretty straightforward,” I told her. “It can always go bad, but right now, I’d say I understand where this is going.”
I wasn’t lying. Between the implant’s store of knowledge about Abominator and galactic technology and my own experience with the alien technology in the League’s “jet,” it didn’t feel like alien technology anymore.
Dr. Griffin blinked. “In more than twenty years in this field, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that. If you can pull this off, you’ll be getting job offers from places you’ve never even heard of, most of them so secret you won’t ever be allowed to fully explain your job.”
She glanced around, and not seeing anyone nearby, she continued talking, “I’ll deny it if you tell anyone, but if you do pull this off, consider yourself as having a standing job offer from my lab. We can use someone like you.”
Giving the area around us another once over, she added, “Medford isn’t far from New York City, but still has a little bit of small-town feel. You might like that. Just don’t tell anybody I said any of this. It would get awkward.”
“No problem,” I said. “I won’t.”
She smiled. “Good. Keep me updated on it and don’t hesitate to let me know if you need help. I’ve got more experience with alien technology than anyone else here. That’s why they brought me in.”
Standing up, she pushed her chair back into the correct cubicle and walked away.
Thinking back to when I’d helped defend their lab a year or more before, they’d weaponized alien tech that disintegrated the mercenaries trying to break in. I didn’t know what they were working on now, but I’d be interested in learning about that. On the other hand, whoever had rigged that up probably had ended up in a top secret government lab.
Since it was later in the day and I’d been interrupted anyway, I accessed the library again, going through more of the entries that had been accessed over the weekend, checking if any stood out.
One did. Labeled “Experimental,” it appeared to be a design from Abominator scientists stationed on Earth. The design described the minimum genetic tweaks necessary to get an effective fighting force out of human beings by heightening their ability to analyze information as well as the tweaks needed to maintain that group as distinct from the rest of humanity.
It didn’t take me long to recognize that they were talking about the True.